LibriVox recording of Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Read by Patrick Wallace.
For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Stevenson's account of his extended walk, in 1878, through uplands and mountains in south-western France amply fulfils this declaration of intent.
Stevenson writes with a characteristic wry humour on his own failings as a traveller (who else would admit to hiking with an egg-whisk?), on his travails with Modestine the self-willed donkey (animal-lovers should brace themselves for nineteenth-century attitudes to beasts of burden) and on the discomforts of travel in the age before mass tourism; and with, perhaps, a certain youthful (he was 24) condescension in his observations of peasant life on the cusp of modernity.
There is also a young man's earnestness in the poetic lyricism with which he describes the landscape and scenery of the region, and above all in the core of the book: an extended discussion of religious tolerance and intolerance. Stevenson's tour explored the country's history of brutal religious war - specifically, the resistance of the Camisards to Louis XIV's repression of Protestantism in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, so similar to the treatment of the Covenanters in Stevenson's native Scotland at around the same time. His account of notable episodes in Camisard history foreshadows the storyteller he was to become in Treasure Island, Kidnapped and other novels.
Travels With a Donkey is regarded as a classic of travel writing and an early inspiration for the idea of long-distance walking for pleasure - many a modern traveller follows the Stevenson Trail, now (as GR70) part of France's national network of long-distance walking routes.
This version includes the fragment "A mountain town in France", originally intended as the opening chapter, but often omitted and published as a separate essay.
(Summary by Patrick Wallace)
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